How Long Does Potato Salad Last?

If you make it homemade, store it well so it will last.

potato salad
Photo: Southern Living

Southerners love potato salad. We eat it year round, of course, but it steps into the spotlight in the summertime when we dish it up with our burgers, barbecue, and other backyard fare.

We appreciate its popularity and portability, making it a go-to choice for picnics, cookouts, and potlucks. Yet, we've all heard cautionary tales where potato salad was blamed for outdoor meals with unhappy endings.

So what's the deal? How long can potato salad sit out? How many days will it keep? The answers are pretty simple, actually. It comes down to time and temperature.

How Long Does Potato Salad Last?

Potato salad, like most perishable foods, cannot sit out for more than two hours, and closer to only one hour when the temperature is above 90°F and you're dining outside. The clock starts ticking as soon as you stir together your homemade recipe, so unless you intend to eat all of the potato salad at once, shortly after it's made, you need to promptly transfer it into an airtight container and pop it in the fridge.

The safe temperature threshold for potato salad is below 40°F. At home, that means in the refrigerator.

When away from home, a cooler full of ice or frozen gel packs is the only way to go. The two-hour window applies each time a container of potato salad is not chilled, not just when it's sitting out on the table.

When handling store-bought ready-to-eat potato salad, the clock starts ticking as soon as you place it in the shopping cart. It's easy to forget that the drive home from the grocery or restaurant might exceed the 1- or 2-hour time limit when we're running lots of errands on a hot day. (That's true for other perishable groceries and take-out fare as well.)

By the way, mayonnaise is not the culprit here. Blame it on the bad bacteria that grow rapidly when food remains in the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F for more than two hours. This means that potato salad made without mayo isn't exempt from these time and temp guidelines.

Bottom Line: When stored safely, fresh potato salad should keep for up to five days.

But when in doubt, throw it out, even when the potato salad looks, smells, and tastes OK. You can't trust a quick sniff test or wishful thinking when it comes to assessing the risks of foodborne illness caused by undetectable bad bacteria. You want people to remember and talk about our potato salad for only good reasons.

Does Potato Salad Need to Be Refrigerated?

Since it can turn bad in a matter of two hours when left out of the fridge, potato salad always needs to be refrigerated if you're not about to eat it all immediately. If you're planning on storing it for a longer time, putting it into the fridge is recommended as soon as possible, too.

The reason for that is, as the USDA says, no perishable food can sit out for any more than two hours if you want to be entirely sure it's safe to eat.

It takes roughly two hours for bacteria in foods to grow to dangerous levels, which is why you want to minimize the amount of time food is in the temperature danger zone (between 41°F and 135°F). On days that are 90°F or warmer and you're dining outside, that time shrinks to one hour.

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